In this Feb. 15, 2017 photo, Rep. Dean Westlake, D-Kotzebue, speaks in support of his resolution to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge during a House floor sesison. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

In this Feb. 15, 2017 photo, Rep. Dean Westlake, D-Kotzebue, speaks in support of his resolution to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge during a House floor sesison. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Report confirms lawmaker harassed staff

An investigation by the Alaska Legislature’s internal watchdog has confirmed that former Rep. Dean Westlake, D-Kiana, sexually harassed multiple Legislative employees in 2017.

The investigation’s final report was released by the Alaska House of Representatives’ Rules Committee after a lengthy closed-door discussion Monday night but does little to settle the question of whether Westlake’s actions were concealed by the House Majority for months before their publication.

“In conclusion,” the report states, “the cumulative effect of Representative Westlake’s actions and comments created a hostile work environment (and) sexual harassment.”

The report was written by Skiff Lobaugh, human resources manager for the Legislative Affairs Agency, the nonpartisan support department of the Legislature. Lobaugh concluded the report with a note stating that his investigation was interrupted when Westlake resigned, an act that became effective Christmas Day. Gov. Bill Walker is expected to name a replacement for Westlake as soon as this week.

“I’m just relieved they found him responsible,” said Olivia Garrett, a former Legislative staffer whose complaint sparked the investigation. Six other women also said they were harassed by Westlake.

According to the report, there were four specific allegations from three different women. In the first, Westlake was accused of grabbing Garrett and saying her hair “turned him on.” Responding to the investigator, Westlake said he was a hugger, and the report concluded, “the difference between a hug and a grab can be a matter of opinion between the participants.”

In the second allegation, Garrett said Westlake grabbed her from behind. The report validated that complaint.

In the third and fourth allegations, staffers said Westlake offered unsolicited comments that made them uncomfortable. In one, the staffer said Westlake remarked on her looks, saying “How are we supposed to get any work done around here with employees who look like that?”

Another legislator heard Westlake’s remark, and while he could not remember the specific interaction, “he would not doubt that it happened.”

The report concluded that the unsolicited comments, on their own, did not fit the definition of “hostile work environment sexual harassment,” but when combined with the other incidents, they identified a pattern.

After the report’s release, Westlake said by text message that he is investigating whether it is possible to appeal the report’s conclusions. 

“I am sincerely sorry if any of my actions or words made anyone uncomfortable. I made some comments and assumed they would be taken as I meant them, as compliments. I am now reconsidering things I used to view as friendly or funny,” he wrote. “I do not feel that I inappropriately touched anyone, but as the report states — that is a matter of personal perception.”

Westlake went on to say that he has learned from the experience and offered his apologies to the people who voted for him.

The issue of Westlake’s actions — and who knew what, when — has become a subject of rancor in the House of Representatives in the weeks leading up to the start of the legislative session Tuesday.

Garrett filed her complaint in March. The complaint was addressed to Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham and House Majority Leader Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, but according to Lobaugh’s timeline of events, his investigation did not begin until months later in early December, after Garrett released her letter publicly, began talking about the issue, and after the state’s newspapers, TV stations and radio stations began covering the issue.

According to the report, Edgmon spoke to Westlake about Garrett’s complaint on March 21. Garrett reported no further incidents, but other women did.

Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, has called for the resignation of House Rules Committee chairwoman Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage. In a series of statements, Wilson said she cannot have confidence in a revised system for reporting sexual harassment complaints if she cannot trust the person in charge of revising that system.

Garrett said she hopes the report’s release means the Legislature is doing things correctly.

“The biggest issue here was not having a process that staff knew about or could trust. If I had been referred to Skiff back in March this might have been dealt with properly and not blown up as much as it did,” she said.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258.


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